My First Cadillac

 Calais Spared from Flushing Floods

Tom Keegan

A 1965 Calais similar to this one was rescued from a NY flood to give years of faithful service.

While the title of this little tale would seem to describe a near catastrophe at a French port caused by a Dutch town, it is actually the story of a Cadillac rescued from Long  Island floodwaters.

Dad never seemed to have trouble seizing an automotive bargain. So it wasn’t a surprise when he announced he had snagged a couple of flood cars from an auction after a Flushing Queens deluge. I don’t remember we needed another car, but $500 seemed a small price to pay for a straight 1966 Impala coupe and an impressively long and gold Cadillac sedan.image

The 1973 inundation left the big boats damp and unresponsive, but optimistic Dad just tossed me a couple of cartons of tune up parts and let me get to work. The summer weather cooperated, and dried out the cars in no time. Soon I had both V8s running perfectly. Title issues muddied the waters surrounding the Chevy, so it was returned to the auction. That left the Cadillac, of which I had no experience. Soon, however, I became a fan of its brilliant interior, power accessories, and super-smooth V8.  Older brother Jim was the first sibling to slip behind the big wheel, driving it to St Johns for college classes, with frequent trips up the Hudson Valley to visit the girlfriend. Jim never spared the horses, but the old Cad only stranded him once with a bad alternator. Sister Kathy grabbed the reigns next, and moved to Binghamton to attend SUNY. But by Christmas 1979 gasoline topped a whopping $.85 a gallon, and Kathy threw in the towel. Home from the University of Iowa for holidays I grabbed the keys and prepped the Calais for its 1000-mile mid-winter journey to Iowa City. Light-weight oil, a 195-degree thermostat, and the national 55mph speed limit helped the Cadillac achieve 18mpg as it loped through the frozen landscape. The trip was without incident, but once I parked the car it froze. While my anti-freeze solution may have been adequate for temperate Long Island, it was no match for Iowa’s sub-zero temps. The radiator split, but the engine suffered no damage.

In time, the car took to the cold weather. It started without fail on Iowa’s  crystalline, minus 30-degree mornings. This helped make my early-morning newspaper delivery routes bearable. The huge interior was put to good use transporting college students to the Amana Colonies for Saturday breakfasts, as well as for recycling newspaper and metal for profit.

The post -graduation trip home was, again, without incident. As I left for my Peace Corps service I returned the keys to sister Kathy, hoping after two years the Calais and I could pick where we left off. But it wasn’t meant to be; Kathy was broadsided by a Torino, totaling both vehicles. Kathy sustained a nasty gash at the knee. Certainly the sheer mass of the Cadillac protected her from more serious injury. While I was disappointed not to drive the car again, I now wonder if protecting Kathy wasn’t the Caddy’s last selfless act perhaps in gratitude for rescuing it from the flood all those years before.


How $200 Saved a  Marriage and a Classic Eldorado

By Jeff Pendleton

I started working on old cars when I was 12 years old. It seemed my dad always had a project going. So when I was finally old enough to join the ”boys” in the garage, I made the best of it by absorbing every detail I could. That first restoration was a 1936 Ford three-window coupe. But my dad’s daily drivers, they were Cadillacs: Brand-new Cadillacs. When I was a boy, dad always drove convertibles.
I can recall waving bye-bye to daddy as he backed his 1958 Deville out of the garage on his way to work. That car was followed by a red 1960 Deville, a white 1962 Deville, and a green 1966 Eldroado convertible. He finally broke the convertible trend in 1968 with an Eldorado. This continued in 1970 with another Eldorado and again in 1972 when he bought his last new Cadillac, a Sedan Deville. Tragically dad died in 1974 in a one-car accident driving a 1973 Blazer, the only Chevrolet he had ever owned.
Years later, with a family, home and a career of my own, I began to think about starting a little car project. My best friend, the late Tom Anthony, was also a Cadillac fanatic. So, it was settled, I was going to look for a Caddy to restore. Tom and I were relentless. We traveled out every Saturday to look at cars we found in the paper. What we found was disappointing. Only one out of ten cars was even close to being as described. So we kept on looking.

One weekend, however, I had forgotten to get cash out of the bank and I wanted to drive about 60 miles north to look at a 1969 DeVille Convertible for $3500. So in this case I called a friend who owned a home business. He usually had a stash of cash around, and he accompanied me on this particular day. We drove to Lathrop, or was it Lawson? It didn’t matter because the car was total junk, another disappointment! But there was one more car I had a passing interest in seeing: a 1976 Eldorado Convertible located in Brookside for $2000.
I remember standing outside the detached two car garage as the owner lifted the garage door. My eyes fell upon the triple-white Eldo, but my heart sank as I saw the flat tires and inch of black dust sitting on the flat surfaces of the car. It honestly didn’t look like it had moved in many years. My friend’s eyes and mine met, and I shrugged a knowing shrug, “Thanks”, I told the owner, “But that’s a little more project than I was expecting.” As we turned to leave, the owner assumed an almost desperate stance. He spread his arms to block the door, and he said “Hey look!, I HAVE to get this car out of here, my wife is getting ready to divorce me if I don’t get her car inside. If I could just get a couple hundred dollars…”

“Two hundred?” I asked, my eyes once again meeting my friend’s. “Do you have the title?” Yes, he had the title, and he went on to explain that the car looked a little worse that it was. In fact it had a brand new convertible top that he had paid $1500 to have installed. Well, perhaps I should at least walk around the car! It was kind of tight in that tiny old garage, but there really weren’t any dents in the car, And the leather seats didn’t have a single tear in them. The dash and door panels were cracked, but actually…actually I could sell this for $200 any day! I’ll take it! He got the title, my friend peeled-out a measly $200, and I owned a car that didn’t run on four flat tires miles from my house!

The truth is my buddy also had a car trailer and Tom had a portable air tank. I went by my house, got a few tools, swung by and picked up Tom, and went to Western Auto. There I bought a battery, some oil, starting fluid and transmission fluid. We headed back to Brookside and went straight to work. First thing I aired-up those old tires, and got the old boat to roll. I plopped in the new battery, topped-up the oil, and had Tom assume the captain’s position in the driver’s seat! “Hey Tom, tell me if you have any brake pedal.”

“Nope! The pedal goes straight to the floor.” So much for my dream of maybe driving it home, but at least we had a trailer. Now, I’ve heard all that stuff about taking the plugs out and squirting oil in each cylinder and all that jazz, but we were  way too excited for that! “Let me spray some of this starting fluid and give it a try!” Pshhhhhhh, crank, crank VROOOM! Whoa!!! Not only did it start, it sounded GREAT! “See if it will move!” Well, it kind of tried, so I grabbed my handy can of transmission fluid, and drained it into the filler tube. The car started to move! In a minute we had the car in the street and on the trailer heading for home.
By the time I was done, I had about $4500 in that car and had driven it about 5000 miles over two years. I ended up selling it for a small profit and couldn’t wait to get my next one.
Oh my! You’d never believe that story!

A Special First Car Story

By John Rau

Most everyone remembers their first car. For some, it was a simple purchase, for others, a gift from a loved one, for others like my 17 year old son Stephen, a seemingly serendipitous set of events came together in a special way. In the summer of 2011, Stephen had decided he wanted a car. He wanted something reliable and affordable on his $8/hour job bagging groceries at Paola’s Price Chopper. He started saving his money, and started looking, with Dad providing advice as asked.

Cadillac at the clubhouse 20

One Saturday in October, his boss asked him to go outside and retrieve the grocery carts from the cart stations out in front of the store. While outside, he happened to notice a nice 4 door sedan with a “For Sale” sign in the side window. He went over and took down the phone number. When he got home, he told me about the car and asked if I’d go over with him to look at the car. He called the owner, arranged a time, and got their address. We made the long drive down to Linn Valley a day or so later, and pulled into the driveway. I immediately recognized the car as a ’93 Cadillac Sedan DeVille. There was something special about the car—the color combination—that made me take notice. We met the owners; a delightful older couple who were selling the car for his sister, who was too old to drive anymore. She had owned the car since new, and had garaged it all those years—even covering it with a nice car cover. Upon closer inspection, we both were in awe of how well the car was taken care of, and how clean it was. We both drove it, and knew this was the one for Stephen. As a first car, it had safety features a parent wants to see: front wheel drive (for winter driving) anti-lock brakes, and a drivers’ side airbag.

The current owners described all the work they had done since his sister gave them the car: new brakes, new front tires, and a new battery. Additionally, they had the lower bodysides repainted due to stone chips that had nicked the original paint job. Everything on the car worked: the power seats, windows, door locks, the power antenna, factory cassette player, cruise control, a/c—everything! It was really a nice car, with just 139,000 miles on it. I was afraid it might be out of Stephen’s price range. The couple was asking $3000. Not bad, not bad at all, and just at the outside edge of Stephen’s price range. We countered with $2700, and the deal was done. So what makes this such a special story? Well, Stephen didn’t have the entire amount. He only had $1500. Knowing this was the right car for him, I asked the owners if they’d consider a special deal so that Stephen could get the car. They would keep the car stored in the garage, and Stephen would make interest-free monthly payments until the car was paid off. The man had a soft spot in his heart for Stephen, and I know he knew we’d take good care of the car. He agreed, and we drew up a contract, Stephen signed it and left the man the $1500. Over the winter, Stephen steadily made payments until in February of 2012, he had it paid off. On a nice sunny day in late February, the older couple drove the car to Paola and delivered the car to him! So, Stephen wound up with an extremely rare optioned, low production color combination, pristine 1993 Cadillac Sedan DeVille! Being the Cadillac fan that I am, I researched the car, and found out that less than 4% of the DeVilles produced that year were painted in Taupe Metallic over Dark Plum Metallic, and less than 1% of those were equipped with the padded vinyl roof in Taupe, and less than 1% were equipped with the standard velour seats, also done in Taupe. Plus, only 15% of all the ‘93 DeVilles were equipped with the gold package. The owner also shared his side of the story with us. He said he hadn’t done much advertising—in fact, the only advertising he had done was sticking a “For Sale” sign in the window! They loved driving the car on trips, preferring it to their new car, in fact. They’d recently come back from an out of state funeral, and he’d actually taken the sign out for that trip. He decided to come to Paola to get groceries that day, remembered the “For Sale” sign, and stuck it in the side window just before leaving Linn Valley. Had Stephen not been in the parking lot at that exact moment, or if the owner had forgotten to put the “For Sale” sign back in the window, or if the owners wanted all the cash up front, this car wouldn’t have happened for Stephen. Somehow, it was meant to be!